By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager
In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.
A team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.
After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.
On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.
The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.
The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.
Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.
As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.
By Erin Olsen, ChildFund Staff Writer
Last week, the United Nations released the Post-2015 Development Agenda, outlining the strategy for eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The agenda is a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, and includes recommendations from thousands of civil society organizations, businesses, governments and everyday people from more than 120 countries. The result is what the report calls a “bold yet practical vision” for the future of development.
It was exciting to see children at the core of the Post-2015 Agenda. Among the 12 goals outlined, eight specifically target children’s issues. At the forefront: violence against children, gender discrimination, job training and education for youths and prevention of deaths among children under 5 and mothers during childbirth.
Since the declaration of the MDGs in 2000, there have been many successes, particularly for children. According to UNICEF, more children – especially girls – are now attending primary school, maternal and child deaths have declined steadily. Malnutrition in children under age 5 is lower than ever. Globally, extreme poverty has been reduced by half.
Despite the successes, there have been some shortcomings, in part because the eight defined goals were not well integrated. Effective sustainable development requires a holistic approach. For example, combating malaria doesn’t just require supplying those at risk with pesticide-treated nets and medicines; it also requires tackling the root causes of poverty, like poor infrastructure in communities and inequality.
Addressing that lack of integration is a main focus of the Post-2015 Agenda. The agenda is driven by five “transformative shifts” that will help to meet the 12 goals to end poverty. Economic growth, universality, peace, global partnering and sustainability are all essential to meeting the goals by 2030. Each goal focuses on a particular sector such as gender, water and sanitation, health, food security, education and economics. These goals integrate and overlap, and ideally the success of one goal will lead to the success of another. It will require a pretty drastic global paradigm shift, but the payoff could be huge.
ChildFund’s programs are already ahead of the curve on many of these issues, and sustainability is at the heart of ChildFund’s mission. Our integrated, sustainable approach tackles root causes of poverty and focuses on holistic programs. For example, our Early Childhood Development programs incorporate maternal and child health, early education and nutrition, as well as addressing parenting techniques and preventing violence in the home.
You can play a part in eradicating poverty and helping children in need by Sponsoring a Child, and supporting ChildFund’s efforts to provide innovated, integrated programs to help children throughout the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the third in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
Enclose stickers, paper dolls or hair ribbons (for girls), origami paper, coloring book pages, photographs or postcards.
My name is Colleen, and I live in a suburb of the city of Cleveland, in the state of Ohio, in the USA. My husband Mark and I have two young children, William and Anna. Mark works in Cleveland at the Goodyear factory, which makes tires for cars and trucks, and I am a pastry chef at a nearby restaurant. I prepare all of the sweets and desserts.
My youngest sister, Amanda, is a Peace Corps volunteer, working in public health in Siem Reap. Since she arrived in Cambodia, Amanda has been sending us photos of the area near her home – the temples of Angkor and the villages in Tonle Sap Lake. One of my favorite pictures is of two small girls sitting inside an open window at Angkor Thom, playing a game with stones.
After hearing Amanda’s stories about Cambodia, I decided to sponsor a child there. I chose you because your picture is just like one of those little girls in the window at Angkor Thom.
Meakara, I hope you will write to tell me about your life, so I included an information sheet to help you. I am very interested in the street games you play to celebrate Chaul Chhnam Thmey. Could you please tell me what you like best about Khmer New Year?
I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Bob and I live in the city of Charlotte, in the state of North Carolina, in the USA. I am a pediatrician, with three grown sons. Andrew is a computer programmer. Nathan is a banker and he and his wife Mary have children of their own. My grandsons are named Robbie and Timmy. My youngest son, Ian, is a dental hygienist.
I have never visited Vietnam, but several of the doctors in the hospital where I work are Vietnamese. They share their customs and holidays with me, and they even taught me to prepare pho. I decided to sponsor a child in Vietnam because of their friendship. When I read that your parents were divorced, I chose you. I am also divorced, and I know how difficult it is for a parent to raise a child alone.
Minh, I hope you will tell me about yourself and what you enjoy most. I am also interested in how your family will celebrate Tet, the New Year, in February. I was born in the year of the snake. Which year were you born in?
I enclosed a map of the United States, so that you can find the city and state where I live, and a map of Vietnam, so that you can find your own town.
In subsequent letters, enclose embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), string games, origami paper, a poem from their culture, Sudoku charts, word puzzles, a map of the United States and a map of their country, flash cards with English vocabulary, photographs or postcards.
Next post: Writing to youths ages 12 to 18
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
From ChildFund Japan, one of our ChildFund Alliance partners, comes a touching video about how the seaside city of Ofunato is recovering from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. “The Garland of Smiles,” which focuses on ChildFund’s people-centered approaches to healing and rebuilding, is nearly 22 minutes long, yet if you are interested in seeing what has happened in the aftermath of the tsunami, it’s well worth viewing.
More than 15,000 people in Japan died as a result of the disaster, and as we see in the video, numerous homes and buildings were destroyed, forcing as many as 8,000 people in Ofunato to live in temporary housing. It’s in this makeshift community where we meet ChildFund Japan project manager Yoshikazu Funato, who oversaw many initiatives to bring back some normalcy to children and adults.
ChildFund Japan, which normally assists children and families in the Philippines and Nepal, had to focus its energy inward after the disaster. With financial support from other ChildFund Alliance members, including ChildFund International, ChildFund Japan concentrated its activities in Ofunato because outside support was less available there than in other stricken areas. Beginning its work in the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami with a variety of volunteers and staff, ChildFund completed its projects in March 2013.
In preparation for the rebuilding, Funato and others conducted a door-to-door survey to see what Ofunato’s residents wanted and needed most. Some projects were small — building wooden benches in the temporary communities to promote socializing — while others were more ambitious, like providing grief counseling to preschoolers and creating a collective farm that keeps residents supplied with healthy food.
As a result of ChildFund Japan’s work throughout the past two years, some residents in temporary housing became invested in the improvements, from working at the farm to taking part in a residents’ association.
As you’ll see in the video, Ofunato has undergone a transformation in the past 24 months — not just physically but in attitude as well.
By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager
The 50th anniversary of the Organization of Africa Unity is being celebrated this week in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.
The official anniversary on May 25 marks a significant milestone in the journey of Africans since the OAU charter was signed in 1963 by representatives of 32 governments. The aim was to promote the unity and solidarity of the African states and achieve a better life for Africa’s people. South Africa became the 53rd member in 1994, and in 2002, the OAU’s successor, the African Union, was formed.
Anniversary celebrations will draw on African narratives of the past and present, while looking to the future. The anniversary is expected to motivate and energize denizens across the African continent to accelerate a forward-looking Pan-African agenda and a 21st-century renaissance.
Against this historical backdrop, ChildFund International’s Africa regional office, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children are staging a one-day conference to shine the spotlight on Africa’s children.
Today’s event, “Children’s Rights in Africa 50 Years of the OAU/AU” reflects on challenges and progress during the past five decades, while seeking even greater protection and promotion of children’s rights by leaders across Africa in the future.
By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste
At a primary school in Timor-Leste, parents are becoming more involved in their children’s education through the Parent-Teacher Association.
“As a member of the PTA, I have to help so that my children will have a comfortable classroom,” says Madalena Soro, a mother of four. Two of her children are at EBC Samutaben, a primary school in the Bobonaro district, where AusAID and ChildFund Australia fund a project to promote child-friendly preschools and primary schools. Seventeen Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and 13 primary schools participate, with more than 4,000 children benefiting.
One of the program’s objectives is to strengthen schools through active PTAs. Parents and teachers are expected to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they contribute to a child-friendly school.
ChildFund is not new to Madalena; her children all benefit in different ways from projects run by our national office in Timor-Leste and Hamutuk, a local partner organization.
Her second child is a fifth-grader, and her third-born is in second grade. The youngest attends an ECD center in the same compound as the children’s school. Ricardo, the fifth-grader, has had a sponsor from Australia since 2007.
Madalena helped cook and provided vegetables and bread for workers who were renovating the school recently. She also was happy to assume the responsibility of supervising quality control whenever the workers asked her to check the alignment of blocks and proper placement of ceilings.
She excitedly anticipated the end result: a comfortable learning space for the schoolchildren. Before, children endured leaking roofs, which disrupted their learning, as well as unsecured doors and windows, which allowed the entry of stray animals into classrooms. Madalena says that before starting classes in the morning, the children had to clean the classrooms and the land around the school, putting their health at risk and reducing learning time.
But, today, with the help of parents, teachers and students, EBC Samutaben is more comfortable and has proper chairs and tables for the children. Teachers now have space to prepare their lesson plans and keep school records in a renovated faculty room. Madalena added that rehabilitated classrooms are not only good for students but for the entire community.
Still, the school has remaining challenges; animals continue to enter the school premises because there is no perimeter fence, and there’s no safe drinking water. Children also are at risk because the school is dangerously close to the community’s main road.
The PTA’s participation continues to be very important in improving the condition of the school, Madalena notes, and she hopes more parents will participate as time goes on.
By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe – no matter where they live. This week’s theme focuses on preventing gender-based violence, which often starts with the most vulnerable – children.
Two years ago, I walked into Rapid City, S.D., airport and I saw my maternal grandma’s face that I love so much seemingly peering at me from these huge black-and-white photos of former Native American chiefs – it was the same bone structure, the same wide forehead and the same intensity of resilient stare. I remember smiling at the portraits with a nostalgic sense of love and recognition before hurrying to catch up with my ChildFund colleagues.
This year, I walk into the airport in Dakar, Senegal, and I see these sculpted, lean bronzed, dignified warrior-like bodies of my step-grandfather – my grandma’s husband – and I smile and ache with that same sense of instant love and recognition. I think to myself: our people of the Caribbean truly are the “melting pot,” influenced and built by so many races – Native Americans, African slaves, Indian and Syrian indentured laborers, Hispanics, French, English and Portuguese – all blending to make up my world, my genealogy and my heritage.
In South Dakota, we heard from our U.S ChildFund colleagues how teenagers in Native American communities were committing suicide at such a frequent rate that their parents were more consumed by mourning than cherishing their children who are still alive. Their recounting of these ongoing tragedies became unbearable to me when I learned that children as young as 5 years old were killing themselves for various reasons, including hopelessness and abuse and after witnessing it happening all around them to their siblings, extended relatives, schoolmates and community friends.
I left the U.S. not being able to internalize or envision the inner thoughts and external situations that would lead a young child to decide not to remain here with the rest of us.
I had shelved that discomfort until I walked into one of the first transatlantic slave houses in West Africa on Senegal’s Goree Island. Our guide took us to the statue honoring the first slave liberation in 1802 by the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and I was proud to know that we islanders had shown the first demonstration of humanity and common sense by abolishing slavery.
The guide then took us to the slave holding compound – a preserved structure from centuries before and empty of the spirits of those once held in captivity. We went through the various rooms where men were weighed and measured for strength, where young virgins were holed in, where slaves were shoved into claustrophobic “time-out” 3-foot cells when being punished.
I treated the excursion as a historical exercise until we entered this dusky, elongated room where 30 or more children at a time were crunched together. In that instant, I had a flash vision of those children huddled in fear and cold, innocent and traumatized, trying their best not to cry aloud and barely able to breathe, with only two or three open slits in the wall facing the ocean for ventilation.
That was when my defenses went down, and I turned to the slit in the wall and remained silent and choked, hiding the tears from my colleagues. Every cowering, every tear, every thought of hopelessness I envisioned as experienced by these 30 children at a time had the face of my 6-year-old son stamped on their bodies. And I thought, no children of any ethnicity – be they Native American, African, Asian; the former slaves of Egypt to the the Oliver Twists of industrialized Europe; or those children today ensnared in the modern, underground slavery network of child abuse and trafficking should ever again die or have to live through that kind of inhumane experience.
Later that week as our ChildFund “Shine a Light” project team gathered to discuss gender-based violence and how to better integrate gender-based elements in our programming for children, I began musing that the “child” could be considered a third gender, like a third universal ethnic group.
When there is a rising situation of violence or a culture of violation and death, sadly, children are never exempt. Their misfortune and, often, their fatalities are unacceptable. The young child, still vulnerable and unable to take care of his or her basic needs or protect the self, the child still too innocent to distinguish cultural gender norms, the child who simply and for certain knows that she or he just wants to be safe and loved is the “third gender,” highly vulnerable to exploitation and requiring particular support and attention.
Children are gifts. They are assets, and that’s the cornerstone of ChildFund’s work. Their positive foundation as future ancestors of other generations is our daily fight.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund International writer
Last April, ChildFund workforce specialist Ann Latham-Anderson asked the children in her neighborhood an important question: If you didn’t have shoes, what would you miss most?
Then she let them draw on her feet with magic markers, and her husband and daughter chipped in with drawings of children on her toes. The next day at work, she won our foot-decoration contest. “It did take a while to get the ink off my feet,” Ann says with a laugh.
One Day Without Shoes, on April 16, is an engaging day at ChildFund’s international office in Richmond, with contests and music, but it also reminds us about the impact something simple like a pair of well-fitting shoes can have on children’s health, education and future opportunities.
In developed countries, “we have so many options of what kind of shoes to wear,” says Sadye-Ann Henry, a treasury assistant who won the pedicure contest last year. One activity, walking on rocks, showed Sadye-Ann “how tender our tootsies are” and a glimpse of the challenges the children we serve face every day.
Ann, Sadye-Ann and many more of us at ChildFund, including some of our national offices, are preparing to join in on One Day Without Shoes by going without shoes at the office. This event, started by TOMS Shoes six years ago, is meant to raise awareness about children’s education and health and how shoes play a role in helping create opportunities for a better future.
In many developing countries that ChildFund serves, children must have uniforms and shoes to attend school. Also, when children have only flip-flops or no shoes at all, they’re vulnerable to cuts, diseases and hookworm infection, which have long-term implications like stunted growth and compromised health.
Anyone can participate in One Day Without Shoes. Just kick off your shoes and join the rest of us in creating awareness of an important cause.
In Indonesia’s Central Southern Timor region, families have long lacked access to good health care, and 6 percent of children die before the age of 5. ChildFund and UNICEF are working to provide health care services to this population.
Reporting by ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia
Ever wonder how much gifts and sponsorships matter to children who live in extreme poverty? Staff members of ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia recently gathered some first-person reactions from children who have benefited from the generosity of sponsors and companies who donate goods through ChildFund’s gifts-in-kind program.
Jessica, age 12, of Liberia received a Life Is Good tote bag through ChildFund’s relationship with Good360, the nonprofit leader in product philanthropy.
“I attend the Christian Revival School in Konia, Zorzor District, Lofa County. I am in the fourth grade, and I am happy going to school. I carry my bag every morning to school. Other students who don’t have it call me ‘Life’s Good Girl.’ I like the bag … the drawing is funny. It is like a friend who helps to carry my books but never complains.
This is my first bag. Before I was given the bag, I used to carry my books and pencils in my hands. Because my hands were wet when my palms sweat, my books got spoiled. When the rain came, my books got very wet. When the road got dirty, my books got dirty.
Now I carry my school things and other things I don’t want people to see, like my lunch and any nice things. Before, if I was given new books, some bad boys would take them from me and run away. Now, nobody sees what I’ve got in my bag, and I don’t worry. Thank you for my bag!”
Jimmy, 12, and Andrew, 8, of Liberia live in an orphanage and received clothes from Life Is Good.
“I feel very happy to receive the clothes, because they bring me here without enough clothes, and I pray that ChildFund will continue to help us every year. ‘Life Is Good’ is good for us,” Jimmy said. He was brought to this orphanage from another home for orphans that was closed due to lack of funding.
“I was brought with a pair of trousers and a shirt to this orphanage,” Jimmy continued. “I am very happy with my clothes. They make me look good.’’
“I am very happy,” Andrew said. “This is not my first time getting things from ChildFund. I got TOMS shoes. I was carrying slippers to school, and then ChildFund gave shoes to us.”
Asked what they would like to do in the future, the boys had ready answers: “I want to study so that I can work for ChildFund,” replied Jimmy. “I want to become president,” Andrew said.
Timothy, 11, of Zambia, loves writing to his sponsor.
“I live in Kalundu Compound, Kafue district. I am doing grade 6 at Kalundu Basic School. My favorite subject is mathematics. I like writing.
I have a sponsor and friend at ChildFund. Her name is Jeanette. This sponsor has helped me very much for four years. She sends me money every year for my birthday and for Christmas. I use this money to buy shoes and clothes.
Because of this sponsor, I have learned to write letters. I joined the writing club in my community, and I am happy and enjoy writing. Sometimes I write to myself because I like to improve my writing. I would like to see more sponsors come and start supporting other children like me here.”
Gift, 10, of Zambia, values education.
“I’m Gift, and I’m doing my fourth grade at school. My community is made up of about 300 families; most of these people are not employed. They depend on selling vegetables at the market, and others [sell] fish. Other families are farmers.
We have a school in our community where I go and a clinic where we go when we’re sick. A few other children and I are sponsored by ChildFund.
I have a vision that one day my community will become a big city with electricity and more schools. People will also go to school and start working instead of selling vegetables to earn money.”